3 skills you need to drive better collaboration

Jen Jackson

Jen is the CEO of award-winning employee experience company, Everyday Massive, as well as co-author of How to Speak Human (Wiley, 2018). She works with forward-thinking leaders to transform the employee experience — increasing connection, improving communication, and building capability in leaders and teams.

A study published in The Harvard Business Review found the time spent in collaborative activities at work has increased by over 50 per cent in the past two decades.

Larger projects; complicated problems; tighter timeframes: These require bigger teams with specialised skillsets and diverse backgrounds, often dispersed globally.

People in high-performing teams achieve better results, find better solutions, identify mistakes faster, and report higher job satisfaction. Profitability improves when people work together well. However, psychologists from Carnegie Mellon, MIT and Union College discovered group performance is only slightly correlated to individual talent. Often, the opposite is true. Instead, better collaboration comes from improving capability in three areas.


Carnegie Mellon and co found that when it comes to teamwork, emotional quotient (EQ) trumps intelligence quotient (IQ). The highest performing teams in their study all exhibited high average social sensitivity: The ability to intuit how others feel, based on tone of voice, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues.

As long as employees had the necessary expertise, teams with higher average social sensitivity collaborated better and outperformed groups with a lower score.

Psychological safety

Psychological safety describes an environment where people feel confident team members will accept them for who they are, without judging them for speaking up, making mistakes, showing emotion, sharing feelings or expressing personal concerns. Google discovered that people on teams with high psychological safety were less likely to leave, more likely to innovate, brought in more revenue, and were rated as effective more often by their leaders.

To build this environment, Harvard Business School professor, Amy Edmondson, recommends leaders create clear structures where everyone understands their role and expectations, foster camaraderie and inclusion, framework as learning problems rather than execution problems, acknowledge fallibility, and model curiosity by asking questions.

For a team to achieve their full potential, Edmonson also advises leaders balance psychological safety with accountability.


Communication plays a crucial role in ensuring people understand the collective purpose, objectives and impact; individual roles and expectations; and have a clear plan for execution. Research by KPMG shows a strong correlation between leaders who actively communicate purpose, and team engagement and morale.

The Carnegie Mellon study also found conversational turn-taking — the way in which group members share discussion — makes a difference. When everyone contributes roughly equally, collective intelligence increases. In teams where one or two people dominate the conversation, the opposite occurs.

By developing these three skills, leaders can significantly improve the performance of their teams.

Tags: business strategy, leadership

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